Do you keep getting thrush? The secret's in your diet
Around 70% of western women will experience vaginal thrush or candidiasis at some point in their lives, with 40-50% having a further one to two episodes, and 6% suffering repeatedly from infection. Ouch, these are uncomfortable figures.
What is thrush?
Thrush is caused by a kind of yeast called Candida albicans, which is able to grow on the skin, and in the vaginal, oral or gastrointestinal tract. There are many fungal species that inhabit our bodies, but Candida albicans is responsible for over 80% of yeast infection cases.
Under normal circumstances, Candida can be a harmless part of our gastrointestinal environment, which is a healthy melting pot of over 100 trillion bacteria and microbes, making up your microbiome. Together with a healthy immune system, they keep any overgrowth in check. However, Candida is an opportunist, and given the right circumstances will mutate into a long-armed fungus allowing it to spread to multiple organs throughout the body.
What puts us at risk of Candida overgrowth?
- Persistent stress - this puts a strain on our internal resources.
- Poor diets with too much alcohol, coffee, processed foods and sugar.
- A history of antibiotics, which wipe out Lactobacillus, an important protective bacteria in your gut.
- Low immunity, possibly from other underlying infections or diseases.
- High blood sugar, diabetes or obesity.
- Poor liver health caused by our modern toxic lifestyles and environments.
- High oestrogen levels, which is why you often see it in pregnancy.
- Ageing, as the friendly gut bacteria Bifidobacterium bifidum decreases with age.
How do you know if you have developed a full-body infection, not just vaginal thrush?
You could have one or more of these many symptoms:
- itchy armpits
- extreme tiredness and lethargy
- eczema or skin rashes
- recurrent colds and cystitis
- depression and brain fog
- cravings for sweet foods or carbs
- heart palpitations
- weight gain and joint pain
How can your diet help?
Dietary change can depend on the severity of your symptoms, but there are some general rules, and the number one food you have to avoid is sugar.
1. Avoid sugar
Candida feasts on sugar, so it's advisable to avoid processed foods (often full of hidden sugars.) You can identify sugar by reading the ingredients and looking out for anything that ends in 'ose' eg. glucose, lactose, sucrose. Keep an eye out for those nasty sweeteners too, such as aspartame.
The best way to manage thrush through diet is to avoid those processed foods and refined sugar foods altogether. That means skipping the pastries, biscuits or chocolate bars. If you are in need of a chocolate fix, opt for a high cacao content bar over 85%.
If you need some sweetness in your tea or for baking, opt for healthy stevia instead, which is a natural anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory too.
2. Choose low-sugar fruits
Fruit is full of natural sugars so select antioxidant-rich, low-sugar fruit varieties such as berries and citrus, over tropical or stone fruits like pineapples, peaches or mango. Choose green over yellow bananas as they contain beneficial prebiotics (food for your friendly gut bacteria) rather than the yellow and spotty ones, which are much sweeter.
3. Choose gluten-free
Not only for the yeast content but there may be evidence that in some individuals, the presence of Candida may be behind gluten intolerance or even coeliac disease. It could help symptoms by removing gluten from your diet. Instead, enjoy gluten-free grains, such as brown rice, millet, amaranth and gluten-free oats and quinoa.
4. Choose nuts wisely
Avoid mould prone nuts such as peanuts, cashews or pistachio. Focus instead on almonds, walnuts, brazils, macadamia, pine nuts, hazelnuts and pecans, alongside healthy seeds including pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, hemp, chia, and flax seeds.
5. Opt for non-starchy veg
Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables, such as green leafy types including rocket, kale and spinach and cruciferous vegetables broccoli and cauliflower.
Other helpful choices include onions, peppers, courgette, avocados and aubergine.
Beetroots, carrots and squash are on the sweeter end of the scale so be cautious and certainly avoid starchy types like potatoes, corn and peas altogether. Try to avoid mushrooms as these are fungi.
6. Anti-fungal foods
Garlic is a superfood anti-fungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory so enjoy raw in salad dressings or on vegetables or meats where possible.
Beans are also anti-fungal but consume in small quantities (1/2 cup) and no more than three times per week, otherwise they will cause wind, gas and uncomfortable bloating.
7. Avoid wine and beer
I’m afraid alcohol often contains sugar and yeast so best to avoid, especially culprits like wine and beer. For a healthier alternative, have clear alcohols like gin with coconut water or vodka bloody Mary with tomato juice.
8. Eat fermented foods sparingly
If you have a taste for fermented foods such as miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and vinegar, do approach with caution, as they can cause a flare-up of symptoms. Apple cider is actually anti-fungal so safe to have with salads, or opt for healthy lemon or lime juice for dressings.
Further healthy diet considerations
- Meat, fish and eggs are all on the menu, but make sure you buy organic and wild line-caught fish to avoid antibiotics in the animal feed.
- Eliminate milk (lactose contains sugar) and other dairy products like cheese made through fermentation and yeast.
- Coconut oil contains lauric and caprylic acid, which are anti-fungal. It’s much safer to use in high heat cooking because of its resistance to oxidation. It can even be eaten off the spoon if so inclined, so don’t hold back!
- Make green juices with spirulina full of super cleansing chlorophyll.
- Enjoy herbal anti-inflammatory teas like ginger, cinnamon, peppermint, or chamomile, and the king of all antioxidant teas: green tea, containing the polyphenol EGCG (Epicogallo catechin gallate) which is also a strong anti-fungal.
Restricting the food source of thrush may starve the yeast, but if you are going to make changes to your diet, it's important to discuss beforehand with your GP or registered nutrition professional.
Should symptoms flare up again after a period of food restriction, consider working with a nutrition professional who can order you a comprehensive stool analysis test, which looks at the microbial DNA makeup of your microbiome.
A specialist nutrition professional can interpret these results and support you with a personalised diet and supplement plan, in order to correct that microbial imbalance and improve the condition of your intestines, which together, will see off the infection.